The Gudauskas brothers, now in their early thirties, grew up learning to surf the waves near their San Clemente home. Ever since their late teens, Dane, Tanner, and Pat have been traveling the world as professional surfers. When Tanner and Pat qualified for the World Surf League Tour for the first time, Dane wrote “Positive Warrior” on the bottom of Tanner’s board to remind him to keep a positive attitude when things got tough. It became a family mantra, then it morphed into a nonprofit organization, Positive Vibe Warriors, that works to connect young people with surfing and the ocean while teaching them how to protect their wild playground. We talked to the brothers about the work they’re doing and their upcoming documentary Can’t Steal Our Vibe.
OUTSIDE: Explain what Positive Warrior means and how it morphed into a nonprofit.
TANNER: A lot of times when you’re traveling by yourself on the road, there can be a dark side, especially if you’re on a losing streak. It was about the idea of being strong, enjoying the moment, and keeping a positive attitude.
DANE: We just started saying it a bunch. What started as a little thing to get you through became this universal mantra. It’s really just a micro concept for life as a whole. People started sharing their stories with us, and they were feeling inspired by it like we were. We started making stickers and sweatpants and people were stoked. We started saying, “Well what are we going to do with it?” We’re passionate about giving back to the next generation of kids and ocean conservation. We’ve been around the ocean our whole life, and we want people to treat the water with respect and also be safe. We want to give back to communities with youth water-safety programs and allow kids to engage in the ocean in a positive way. So that’s what the foundation stands for. It all started with one small thought. Positive Vibe Warriors as an official nonprofit got started about five or six years ago.
What are the goals of the organization, and how are working to create more positivity and engagement around the sport?
TANNER: We have an event called Stoke-O-Rama (a youth surf event with Vans that raises money for local water safety programs), and we love the role model aspect of it. Our dad passed that on to us: just having fun with ocean and learning about. Stoke-O-Rama is about teaching kids the fun side of surfing and the comradery of the breach. We started to realize that we could get more serious about the organization, raise money, and then direct it to what we were really passionate about it.
DANE: Stoke-O-Rama is a great first step for kids to get involved in contests. It’s all about fun, and we usually raise $10,000 per event to go back to youth water safety in the area, like swim lessons or junior lifeguards. We partnered this year with Big Wave Risk Assessment Group to get training for up-and-coming big-wave surfers. They teach safety techniques for when you’re out surfing big waves. We’ve been in the water when people go down and CPR needs to be performed. That skill set is important, and we need to look out for each other. We really wanted to pass those skills down to the next generation. We also do surfboard drives. We did one for Jamaica, where people along the coast of California donated surfboards to surf shops and we shipped them down to communities to give boards to kids that don’t have them. The second board drive we did was for South Africa. (Editor’s note: They collected almost 200 boards for Jamaica and 700 for South Africa.)
Tell us about your new documentary, Can’t Steal Our Vibe. What’s it about?
TANNER: It takes you through the process of our South Africa board drive. It builds off a relationship with Mikey February, a super interesting character in the surf world who just qualified for the World Tour with Patrick. He works with an organization there called Waves for Change , which is a surf therapy program that operates in at-risk communities in Africa. Mikey has been a big fan of Positive Vibe Warriors since we started it––he painted “can’t steal our vibe” on his board. It sort of organically happened. The documentary follows the drive and the effect for Waves For Change. Originally the boards were just for Cape Town, but we had so many that they’re going to Somalia, Liberia, and Mozambique. The surfboard is the tool for the kids to get to the beach. Surf therapy is them coming and being able to talk to coaches and mentors and open up about home life or school life, and then getting to go surfing. In South Africa, we wanted kids to experience the ocean in a positive way and have fun. It had a really big impact.
DANE: Waves for Change and Surfers Not Street Children, which we also work with, both use surfing as a therapy outlet in townships that have faced traumatic events. It’s all about believing in kids’ abilities to find happy places and helping them get there. We got a lot of inspiration from the people who run those organizations. They’re doing great work. Things like this make you love what you do, when you go out there and ride waves, everyone is connected by that experience.
Are you going to continue to do board drives?
DANE: Yeah, it’s been really exciting to have different communities reach out and tell us their stories. We’ve seen how something as simple as a surfboard drive can become so much bigger, and the scale it can reach. We’re feeling inspired to continue them. Right now we’re working on our third one for kids in Trinidad and Tobago, and inner-city kids in San Francisco and New York City. We have a blueprint of what we want to do but we change and adapt it with each community we work in.
TANNER: The upcycling process is fun and it’s sustainable. We end up getting a myriad of boards. Some people will give new boards and others who are done with their board will pass it on and it gets a new life.
Other than the surfboard drive, what are some things that the organization has done that you’re most proud of?
DANE: Just seeing how people can connect from cultures all over the world to create a greater positive feeling, or hearing that people find inspiration in it that makes their day a little brighter than it was before. Or really just seeing people treating each other with that stoke, seeing how it’s opening up on Instagram with people connecting in a positive way. With the board drives and the Stoke-O-Rama, you’re dealing with people who are coming together, forming friendships, and learning how to interact and care for each other. There are so many things we can get fixated on in the world that are a bummer, and sometimes it’s nice to have something to feel good about and just add a little bit of light.
TANNER: We could never have imagined what would have unfolded. We were just putting one foot in front of the other. It’s had its own growth. There was a kid in middle school in Newport, and he screenshotted the posters for our board drive and started his own at his school. He collected around 30 boards and brought them on the day we were loading up all the boards. We were so blown away that this little kid found so much love in him and wanted to put the effort in to do that.
Do you feel like you got the kind of mentorship and support you’re trying to foster from older surfers when you were young?
DANE: In San Clemente, there was a lot of older talented surfers and they would stoke us out in the water. I remember how pumped I’d be if they remembered my name. And so we thought that if we can just be like them, then that would be such a treat for the next generation. We had that philosophy and just carried it forward. We’ve also been able to travel to different cultures and see that there are universal traits among people, that a smile is universal. It doesn’t matter where you live or where you are, you can just share that joy and stoke with other people. Seeing it on a global scale has allowed us to realize that there’s no limit to where we can take PVW. If we can do it here, we can do it anywhere.
TANNER: The surf world has grown but it’s still a small, close-knit family. If you see surfers out in the water, no matter where you are, you’re going to talk to them. We wanted to be part of that positive community and we wanted to help it grow. That was the beginning of the idea. We’ve seen opportunities to help and we’re doing our best to do that.